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Armchair physician corner

A simple question - because simple is my field of expertise!

Is Crohn's a 20th / 21st Century disease?
Is Crohn's a Western disease?

If the answer to either question is yes does this imply (allowing for the hereditary factor) Crohn's is essentially caused by diet?

Asks the explosive question then steps back into the shadows!
Robert, you crack me up! And that's a wonderful thing! In my opinion, to the 2nd question, yes, I believe it is more of a Western disease and probably caused by diet more than we realize. Just started reading "The Maker's Diet" because of that.
I also agree that diet is a factor, but to play the devil's advocate here...

Did Crohn's come about in the 20th century or just the means of diagnosing it?

Do more "western" people have Crohn's because of their diets or their genetics?
I think a lot must be due to better diagnosis in the west. You know how difficult IBD can be to spot. And with how common diarrhoea is in a lot of under developed countries- who knows how many cases are IBD?

likewise with it being a 20th century disease- before MRIs I bet a lot of cases went undiagnosed/wrongly diagnosed. Even a few decades ago (never mind centuries) it would have been hard to diagnose. Like my grandma- she had bowel problems and 'IBS' but died from bowel cancer around 20 years ago. Could she have had undiagnosed IBD?


It's not a 20th century disease by any means. The royal family has admitted that Albert (Victorias beloved husband) actually died from it. And many, many others from complications due to it over a very long, long period of time.

It isnt just diet either, as it tends to run in families. Cant be just a 'western' thing either. It tends to run in Jewish families.

Sorry, that may make this more complicated! :ybatty:


Naples, Florida
I think diet would be too simplistic. Lifestyle would be more encompassing but then you need to throw in genetics and environment as well. For example on the lifestyle aspect, I think vitamin D plays an enormous role in how IBD manifests. We don't go outside anymore and when we do, we cover up or wear sunscreen. If you look at just diet, just environment, just pathogens, just genetics, just stress levels, etc then you're seeing only a few pieces of a very big and complicated puzzle. I don't think science has any clue how many pieces there are and there's a decent chance a couple pieces have fallen on the floor and the cat ran off with them.
True, all points true! And then you have the theories that deal with not having enough of the "good" micro organisms, that we have overmedicated, overcleansed them out of our guts.
Good question, I wish I knew.

It can be interesting to read what our ancestors ate, life style lived, diseases suffered from, compared to a more modern diet and what conditions developed. It does seem that diet can play a significant role in health in ways probably not thought.

One of the more famous physicians to look into this was Weston Price, a dentist from America. He was working for the forerunner to the American Dental Association. In the 1930s he visited different cultures just being exposed to a western modern diet and observed diseases and conditions that formed. Places he explored where Scottish islands, Swiss mountains, Pacific islands, Eskimos, and original Australians. This is a summary of what he observed from his book ~

"Nutrition and Physical Degeneration"


For nearly 10 years, Weston Price and his wife traveled around the world in search of the secret to health. Instead of looking at people afflicted with disease symptoms, this highly-respected dentist and dental researcher chose to focus on healthy individuals, and challenged himself to understand how they achieved such amazing health. Dr. Price traveled to hundreds of cities in a total of 14 different countries in his search to find healthy people. He investigated some of the most remote areas in the world. He observed perfect dental arches, minimal tooth decay, high immunity to tuberculosis and overall excellent health in those groups of people who ate their indigenous foods. He found when these people were introduced to modernized foods, such as white flour, white sugar, refined vegetable oils and canned goods, signs of degeneration quickly became quite evident. Dental caries, deformed jaw structures, crooked teeth, arthritis and a low immunity to tuberculosis became rampant amongst them. Dr. Price documented this ancestral wisdom including hundreds of photos in his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.
Unfortunately, no mention was made in his book about intestinal diseases.


Super Moderator
I don't believe it is a modern disease but rather it appears modern due to diagnostics.

When Sarah was the only one in the family with CD and after I read and researched until the cows came home I too thought that perhaps there was an equal dose of genetics, environment and triggers at play but when my son also developed the disease I no longer subscribed to that, well not in our case. I now believe that genetics is a far bigger piece of the puzzle. I know many would, and rightly so, suggest that this would make environment come to the fore but aside from them living under the same roof their likes and dislikes when it came to so any aspects of their lives was so very different, too different if you ask me.

The striking similarities exist in the disease itself. Both diagnosed as teenagers, both with disease in exactly the same area, both with the same type of CD and both requiring the same treatment outcomes and both apparently responding equally well to treatment received. The icing on the cake was a CD specialist saying to me one day in passing...'How strange. I have only ever come across one other patient in which the disease is exactly mirrored in other family members. That being a mother and her two daughters".

Of course other peoples experiences are equally individual but in our case it would take a truckload of evidence to convince me that genetics isn't the lead role in our play.

Dusty. :)


Super Moderator
... there's a decent chance a couple pieces have fallen on the floor and the cat ran off with them.
Whoops, sorry about that! I batted them under the sofa. :p

Seriously though, in my totally non-expert opinion it seems like a lot of illnesses (not just IBD) are fairly modern. I saw in the news once about how scientists were doing MRIs of ancient Egyptian mummies, and out of hundreds of mummies they found (I think) only one who had died of cancer, none of the others had cancer nor any signs of cancer. The scientists were trying to figure out just how modern of an illness cancer is, and from the sounds of things it wasn't at all common in ancient Egypt which wasn't all that long ago, cosmically speaking, and is much more common now. I don't know of any studies like that with mummies and other illnesses, but I would wager a guess that IBD wasn't found in many if any of those mummies either. Why, though, is anybody's guess, and like David said is probably a combination of many factors.
Have to keep in mind with all of this "then... now" stuff, it isn't just a case that something appears more prevalent now. A lot of things have changed. Diseases like the flu don't kill anywhere near the numbers they used to for a start. Look at the stats on how many it killed right near the end of World War I. Bubonic plague killed 1/3 of the world in the Middle Ages. Many other diseases kept people from even getting to the age that Crohn's and other diseases generally start to appear. My maternal grandmother died on the operating table from what was thought to be appendicitis in the '40's, but they actually didn't find any sign of it when she was examined. Could have been Crohn's as the physical breakdown evident in her pictures looks a whole lot like the way I was wasting away. I won't say for a moment that today's environment isn't the cause - I think it would be a foolish statement. It could be just as likely that it is a result of a century and a half of war on microbes - something that has been implicated in Crohn's. Lots of possibilities...
It appears that genes can malfunction as a one-off in individuals, as well as potential defects being passed along via family links.

During my life time the world's population has more than doubled. And, since the 1800s, our life expectancy has doubled. Our genes have to replicate accurately, while under more pressure than ever before.